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[BOOK REVIEW] A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Hardcover: 912 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
ISBN-10: 0765325950
ISBN-13: 978-0765325952
Author Websites: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

It’s over. The last book, the absolute, actual last book of The Wheel of Time will be officially available today. A Memory of Light co-written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, appears more than five years after the death of it progenitor Jordan. A whopping nine hundred and nine pages, the novel contains no glossary and no dramatis personae – just an abundance of epic storytelling and the tale of a mythic battle like no other.

[SPOILERS, LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILERS]

The Last Battle, Tarmon Gaidon, has come. The nations of the continent, except the invader Seanchan and distant Sharans, gather at the Field of Merrilor to find out what Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, plans for the end. What is it that he wants from them? What are they prepared to give in exchange for the life-sacrifice of the great channeler in the battle for the fate of the world? Perhaps bit of pie-in-the-sky utopianism.

The so-called “Dragon’s Peace,” is a document each nation signs in agreement so that when they win the Last Battle, the nations will not immediately turn against one another. For Rand, this gets him what he needs – warriors, fighters to distract the Forsaken while he walks right into the Bore to take on the Dark One himself. For the others, perhaps it is evidence that there is room to hope that they will survive the end of the Third Age.

This whiff of constitutionalism, this notion that a simple written document could create a lasting peace is a very American idea. I see it as reflecting military veteran Jordan’s love of country. However, though it may have been Jordan’s patriotism that made this a major plot hinge, the document itself, which binds nations and turns the Aiel into a peacekeeping force, sounds more like a fantasy equivalent to the U.N. than any conglomeration of states binding together for the common good. I do like this notion of a piece of paper tying the world together to fight the great evil but am not sure if what is written here is Jordan’s, Sanderson’s or just a generic cultural utopianism.

The “Dragon’s Peace” appeals to my American conservatism and preference for the ideals of Western civilization, though I am well are that to others, this aspect of the novel may come across as whacky or out-of-place. Why is this document so important, when in the epic battles that follow, and indeed even the epilogue, it is never mentioned again? I like to think that it foreshadows the reality of the novel’s ending even as its words and the words of its signers say differently. Either way, I foresee, like Min Farshaw, that may will question the whys and wherefores of the “Dragon’s Peace.” Whatever Rand (or the authors’) motives, the peace is instrumental in getting all nations, (even, eventually, the Seanchan) to fight on the side of the Light. In that way, it is a plot device that moves the reader and the story forward into what we have been waiting for, namely, the greatest battle of them all.

And it is great. Great in scope, Great in complexity, great in emotion, and great in quality. So great, in fact, that it begins on four battlefronts led by the four great captains (Ituralde, Agelmar, Bryne, and Bashere). But this is the Last Battle, and no divided force can really stand. The armies of the Light fight on and on,. Characters readers have come to love will die and others will be revealed as Darkfriends. Rand will walk into the maw of the Dark itself, confront Shai’tan on his home turf, and learn just what the Wheel means. Perrin will hunt the World Dream, seeking Slayer so that he may prevent Lord Luc from assassinating Rand as he battles. Mat will lead the Seanchan, then all the armies of the Light, all the while wisecracking and gambling on the roll of the dice. Egwene will lead the Aes Sedai into battle alongside Elayne’s Andoran forces while Aviendha protects Rand at the foot of Shayol Gul. A new Forsaken will arise; the Black Tower will be split asunder. New aspects of channeling will be discovered and fights both lowly and high will awe you.

There is no doubt as to the complexity and completeness of the battle told in A Memory of Light. All loose plot twists will end. The action will threaten to overwhelm you, perhaps even become as exhausting to you as to the fictional characters. That is, until your favorite character dies or the battle takes an unexpected turn and you reawaken to its power. The story will consume you like balefire. This final volume is very nearly all you could have asked for in its scope. Rand’s showdown is not mundane or typical nor its end wholly expected. Mat and Perrin’s fate will surprise you, as will that of Egwene, Aviendha and Elayne.

There are some problems in the plot, structurally. As Sanderson attempts to maintain the style and to use the actual words of Jordan as much as possible, there is some disconnect. (The dropped talk of bosoms is an obvious style distinction between Sanderson and Jordan.) The Padan Fain subplot ending feels tacked on, even if it was necessary to end that loose thread of the Weave. Perrin’s Wolf Dream chase is entertaining, but because of the lack of constant, imminent danger it does not have the emotional power of Mat, Egwene, Aviendha, and Elayne’s battles.

At times, one can see Sanderson struggling to live up to the visions and plan of Jordan. But the inability for the two authors to correspond on this volume shows in some of the ways Sanderson took a character’s weave to the left when one might have expected Jordan to take it right. Perhaps the oddities are all to do with needing to conclude the story. Sanderson had already expanding one novel into three, and it appears that perhaps one more might have been good, if only to let the epilogue be a little longer and finish up more of the subplot stories with better lead-ins. Maybe Sanderson could have cut back on some of the battle scenes (whose strategy and complexity feels like Jordan’s planniong) to let the conclusion feel a bit less abrupt and include more development of the subplots (Particularly that of Padan Fain. I still wonder what he was doing there and for what reason?). The one scene of Slayer’s perspective is left hanging at the beginning of the novel due to a lack of a return to his perspective at the end. The mirroring of Slayer’s perspective at beginning and end of the novel would have allowed the humanizing begun at the opening to have more emotional impact. (Though perspectives from the evil side of the story where never very common in The Wheel of Time anyway so the book is not wholly faulty in this respect.)

I’d like to note that the copyediting problems that plagued Sanderson’s first two collaborations are rare here. I only found one misspelling (If forget where and forgot mark it, but I think the word started with an “i”). However, there is no denying a difference of style, and so readers who have disliked how Sanderson writes The Wheel of Time will still have the same issues.

I predict that there will be some speculation about follow-up novels. There is just enough open-endedness to think that there might be more to the epilogue, which is scanty on the details of the Fourth Age, but then, perhaps that was intentional, because the Wheel never does stop spinning.

As a reader who began this journey back when The Eye of the World was first published (I was ten), I can honestly say that I am happy with how it all ends. It was fitting, it was both expected and not, it was oh-so-very EPIC. Oh, there are some things I would tweak or would like to have seen developed more, but all in all I am content. Not just content, actually, but really happy with the way the series turned out. I think you will be too. But whatever you or I feel, one of the greatest fantasy series ever written has come to an ending – and the Wheel turns yet again.